Warriors v Storm preview
Warriors v Storm
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4.00pm (NZT)
The Warriors could probably have done without the bye last week, just as they were starting to gather some momentum following back-to-back victories by 22-point margins.
But for Melbourne the rest would have been just what the doctor ordered, allowing them some time to try and regroup after falling to three straight losses for the first time this season.
Both sides will be disrupted by Origin III, with Melbourne naming all three of their Maroons stars and the Warriors banking on Jacob Lillyman and Ryan Hoffman being able to back up.
The latter would appear an outside chance of taking the field, after limping off midway through the first half with a calf injury against Queensland.
The home side are unchanged from their victory over the Raiders a fortnight ago, but don't be surprised to see David Fusitu'a move from 18th man to start at right centre for Konrad Hurrell, who picked up a right shoulder injury at training this week.
For Craig Bellamy's Storm side Jordan McLean is out, which sees Ben Hampton move to the bench.
The inclusion of Cooper Cronk at halfback is the big change, named to play his first NRL game since being injured in Round 13.
Watch out Warriors: The Storm take excellent care of the ball, and are one of the Telstra Premiership's best when it comes to not making errors in attack. Melbourne have completed more sets (averaging 30 per game) than any team bar the Cowboys, and make the least errors (average of eight per game).
The Storm have three key men returning to action who will be high on confidence following Queensland's record 52-6 win on Wednesday night. Centre Will Chambers found plenty of open space to run for 150 metres with a try, while Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk were pivotal figures as the Maroons piled on eight four-pointers. The Warriors need to start well and ensure that confidence doesn't carry through.
Watch out Storm: In 2015 the Warriors make more line breaks than any other side in the competition, at an average of 4.6 per game. They have weapons all through their backline and star halfback Shaun Johnson is back to elusive best. Unlike the start of the year the Kiwi side are earning the right to run first, which makes them that much more dangerous.
Coach Andrew McFadden has finally managed to get his side completing at over 80 percent in their last two victories, and it's made a huge difference as they recorded their biggest winning margins in consecutive weeks. If the Warriors can finish their sets at around the same rate this Sunday it will be difficult for the Storm to build any significant pressure.
Key Match-Up: Ben Matulino v Jesse Bromwich. The meeting of two of the world's premier front-rowers will be a feature of this match, with both players enjoying arguably their finest seasons as NRL footballers. This pair make metres for fun, with Bromwich sitting second in the competition, averaging 167 per game, and Matulino fourth with 159 per game. Both are also in the competition's top four in terms of total runs and hit ups. They form a lethal combination together for the Kiwis, but come Sunday afternoon will be sworn enemies.
The History: Played 35; Warriors 15, Storm 18, drawn 2. Widely regarded as the Storm's bogey team, the Warriors enjoy one of their better head-to-head records against Melbourne. In their last five games captain Smith and co. have won three, including a 30-14 victory back in Round 5 this year.
What Are The Odds: It's not the biggest betting game of the round, but perhaps the most difficult to pick, if the money trail with Sportsbet is any guide. Money is split 50/50 in all of the main markets. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Did You Know: The game against Melbourne in Auckland traditionally attracts one of the Warriors' top crowds for the season. In both of their most recent meetings at Mt Smart Stadium the game has been attended by over 20,000 fans and has seen their biggest gate taking for the year at that venue. Indications are that it will be no different this Sunday, with pre-sales well above previous weeks in 2015.
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Anthony Eliott. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten.
Televised: Sky Sport – Live from 4.00pm NZT. Fox Sports - Live from 2.00pm AEST.
The Way We See It: If the Warriors can carry through their pre-bye momentum they will probably be too good for this Melbourne side, who aren’t the same attacking force without Billy Slater. Having Cronk back certainly helps their cause, but we think they will struggle to control the flair of Johnson and the New Zealand side if they get going. Warriors by four.